Pastor Tracy Ottenbreit
Slave Lake Alliance Church
Over the past three weeks, I have explored reasons to attend church: a moral compass, a reality check, and relationships, but there is another one: service.
I have listened to many organizers around town with the same complaint: there are not as many volunteers as there used to be. Organizations are crying out, desperate for warm bodies to collect cash, run a booth, make crafts, and bake goods. Why are there fewer people volunteering?
I have a theory. In a church, people were taught that giving your time was of even greater value than giving your money. People were expected to use the gift that God had given them to serve. Some people taught, some cleaned, some counseled, some led, some organized. To be part of a church meant you contributed and served those around you. You were taught the value of serving.
But fewer people attend church now. Perhaps LAGirl1 in an Internet chat room provides a clue as to why: “Yeah, I’ve tried church a few times. One of the deadest places I’ve ever been.” She might be right. It might be dead. Watching some ya-hoo (I think I can say that as one of those ya-hoos) up at the front put on a show can get pretty dull unless the “entertainer” is particularly gifted.
This is not how church was intended originally, mind you. “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” (I Corinthians 14:26) This doesn’t sound like a modern service.
In our consumerist world, we treat church like a show. We gather, pay our fee, and watch the show, but church was always supposed to be a participatory event. It is called a “service” after all, not a “serve-us” (an old joke, but I’m not above such things).
Time and again, Christians are called to serve. Why? It seems we humans are born naturally selfish. Do you have to teach kids to not share, to take things from others, and to want more than they need? One of the only known cures for selfishness is serving others. It gets our minds out of our me-only world and allows us to see the needs around us. Service is seen in a church as worship. It is a core belief that following Jesus requires a life of service.
In a 1978 survey, 78 per cent of the American public agreed that “a person can be a good Christian or Jew if he or she doesn’t attend church or synagogue.”
Ten years later, a follow-up study found that an equally high proportion (76 per cent) still agreed. Yet, a requirement of being a Christian is to serve one another. How can you serve your brothers and sisters at the lake?
The Bible says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) Notice people are called to keep attending not to hear a sermon, not to sing songs, and not to drop money in the plate, but they are called to be there to serve one another – to encourage, to spur them on.
People who come to receive at a church service are not seeing the full picture. Being part of a church is an opportunity to unlearn selfish ways and discover avenues to make the world a better place.